COVID-19 hospitalizations tie record as Utah’s lowest-risk counties show warning signs

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People play outdoor games while mostly wearing masks at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 22, 2020.

Editor’s note: The Salt Lake Tribune is providing free access to critical stories about the coronavirus. Sign up for our Top Stories newsletter, sent to your inbox every weekday morning. To support journalism like this, please donate or become a subscriber.

As coronavirus cases continue to rise in Utah’s “green” counties, where COVID-19 restrictions have been loosened, a study of sewage in one rural area shows the numbers there may be even higher than reported.

COVID-19 was detected in multiple sewage treatment facilities in the Uinta Basin: Dutch John, Ashley Valley and Roosevelt. And in Dutch John, which is near Flaming Gorge at the Wyoming border, the virus levels were particularly high.

“It is concerning because we do not have any laboratory-confirmed cases in the Dutch John area,” TriCounty Health Officer Jordan Mathis said in a news statement, “but we are seeing the same levels of the virus as we are seeing in Roosevelt’s sewage treatment facility where we are seeing most of our laboratory-confirmed cases at the moment.”

In fact, the virus levels in Dutch John and Roosevelt are comparable, per capita, to the levels in Logan and Park City — two places where outbreaks have prompted local officials to call for mask requirements.

The Uinta Basin, by contrast, includes three of the 10 counties that Gov. Gary Herbert moved to “green,” or “new normal” restriction levels about a month ago. Those counties have shown a sharp rise in new cases since Herbert loosened restrictions.

“Despite being in ‘green,' this reinforces each individual’s responsibility toward being diligent in following COVID guidelines,” Daggett County Commissioner Jack Lytle said in the prepared statement.

Lytle surmised that tourism may be responsible for some of the elevated COVID-19 levels detected in Dutch John. “We are not really surprised by these findings given the large influx of people into the county this summer,” Lytle said.

With seven new Utah coronavirus deaths reported statewide Thursday and the highest number of patients concurrently hospitalized since the beginning of the pandemic, the effects of the spread of the virus continue to be felt even as new cases remain slightly lower than last week.

The seven Utahns who died were all Salt Lake County residents. They were:

  • Two women older than 85, who lived in long-term care facilities.

  • A woman older than 85 who died in a hospital.

  • A man, age 45 to 64, who lived in a long-term care facility.

  • Two men older than 85, who lived in a long-term care facility.

  • A woman age 65 to 84, who lived in a long-term care facility.

The state’s death toll from COVID-19 as of Thursday was 267, according to the Utah Department of Health.

Meanwhile, there were 210 Utah patients currently hospitalized — a number equalled only once before, on July 11, according to revised figures by UDOH. In total, 2,150 Utahns have been admitted to hospitals for COVID-19 — up 15 from Wednesday.

The state reported 521 new cases Thursday, with a seven-day average of 598 new cases per day, down from Wednesday’s average of 627. Gov. Gary Herbert has said he wants the state’s seven-day average to be below 500 new cases per day by Aug. 1. That week will begin in three days. Utah’s seven-day averages haven’t been below 500 for the past month.

For the past week, 9.4% of new tests came back positive, down slightly from Wednesday’s average of 9.5%.

Of 36,099 Utahns who have tested positive for COVID-19, 23,093 are considered “recovered” — that is, they have survived for at least three weeks after being diagnosed.

Return to Story